Coloring in the lines…or not

I turned nineteen a few weeks after I graduated from high school, and I was by far the oldest girl in my class. I was also in the first graduating class from my school, which means I was always the oldest. This earned me the moniker “grandma” very early on in my high school career.

Now that I am out of school, I don’t get asked why I am so old for my grade, but sometimes this topic still comes up. The conversations invariably go something like this:

Me: I was held back in kindergarten.

Other Person: Really? Why?

Me: I couldn’t color in the lines, so they made me do it again.

OP: Really?

Me: Yes, and after round two, I still couldn’t color in the lines, so they just sort of passed me through the system after that.

OP: That is terrible! That doesn’t seem right or fair!

Me: I know! It’s also untrue. I really was held back, though.

I then go on to tell them that my kindergarten teacher determined I needed to be held back. She had done some tests before the school year started and also made observations during the year, both assessments guiding her to believe I should do kindergarten again.

I vividly remember my parents talking to me about it one night, and I was sooooooo excited! I got to have Mrs. Smith again!?! I was in heaven. She was—and still is—my favorite teacher. It helps that my best friend was also held back, but having Mrs. Smith again made my heart soar. 

Mrs. Smith told my parents I could go on to first grade, but really needed another year in kindergarten to develop some basic mental aptitudes. She says I would have struggled in third or fourth grade, especially in math. 

I didn’t learn any of this until much later, but all I cared about was having Mrs. Smith for another year. Holding me back turned out to be a huge blessing on several fronts. 

First, I never struggled in school, at least not until I took college trig and pre-calculus my junior year (and then I slogged through calculus my senior year). I probably would have struggled with reading as well, but thanks to Mrs. Smith, I have always loved reading. I’m still not a fast reader, but not everything is about speed.

Second, I was older, and thus more developed physically, which really came in handy in sports. I wasn’t bigger by any stretch, but I was much more coordinated than my peers. My tiny stature actually helped in this regard because I never had long limbs to encumber me. I never dealt with Baby Giraffe Syndrome.

Third, because I was held back, I got to be in the first class of my little town’s high school. Being introverted and shy, this was truly a blessing because the alternative would have likely been a huge public school where I would have been lost in the shuffle, both in sports and socially.

I am so thankful for Mrs. Smith and my parents making what was doubtless a tough decision. I believe they made the right one, and she and my parents always framed it in a positive light. I was never ashamed of being held back, and I quite enjoy embellishing the story.

Their is some truth to my embellishment, however: I truly cannot color in the lines. I am the worst colorer on this planet. I have a couple of stories to elucidate this fact of life.

When I was in 7th grade I took a World Geography class with Mrs. Holland. We covered every continent in depth, and afterwards, we had to draw and color and label each continent’s countries. 

Could these continents float and exist on white paper? You may ask. Nay! We had to color and label the oceans as well! Coloring little tiny countries all different colors was daunting enough, but then Mrs. Holland wanted us to color big, open, shapeless masses of water, too? 

My artistic skills were drawn thin with these projects. They were the bane of my existence in 7th grade. They gave me incredible anxiety because I knew mine looked terrible, and they were physically painful because my hand would cramp up, which of course meant my already-poor coloring skills disintegrated further.

My worst fears were realized one day when Mrs. Holland decided to rank each person’s continent drawing. I think we had just done Africa. Keep in mind, there were seven of us, so it didn’t take long. My piece of paper came in dead last. I cannot remember if she threw the person’s name out with the ranking or not, but I’m sure everyone knew whose was whose.

I love Mrs. Holland, and I’m not bitter about this ordeal; it gives me great fodder for my monologues about not being able to color.

The other story came from a completely different source: a four year old boy. I was helping his teacher during bible class, and as always, there was a picture of a famous bible character, and the kids were tasked with coloring it. 

The boy, who I babysit frequently, encouraged me to color one of the pictures. I did so with some trepidation. Sure enough, after a few minutes, the boy looked at my drawing and said, “You’re not very good at coloring in the lines.” 

He obviously didn’t say it maliciously, but his honesty hurt me deeply—not really; I couldn’t care less about my lack of coloring aptitude, I don’t aspire to be an artist. 

*Author’s Note: I clearly stole the polar bear painting. I could never do anything that good.

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